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Book Review: One Of Us Is Back by Karen M. McManus

Book Review: One Of Us Is Back by Karen M. McManus

Since the publication of One Of Us Is Lying back in 2017, Karen M. McManus has kept legions of readers gripped by the twists, turns and deadly secrets of the Bayview community, first documenting the trials and tribulations of the original Murder Club before picking up with a new generation dealing with a copycat killer in 2020’s One of Us Is Next. Now, in One of Us Is Back, the Bayview trilogy reaches its explosive finale as another deadly game gets underway, bringing with it even more secrets, revelations and mysteries to unravel in an action-packed YA thriller that may not be entirely as gripping as its predecessors, but still delivers a tense and satisfying ending to a story that’s been years in the making.

Picking up a few months following the events of One Of Us Is Next, One Of Us Is Back sees the newly-named Bayview Crew back together again for the summer as each member of the group begins to move on from their trauma, and is starting to look ahead to the next stage of their lives. Of the original Murder Club, Bronwyn is back from her first year at Yale and her relationship with Nate is stronger then ever, with both ready to commit to the relationship fully and wholeheartedly. Cooper’s baseball career is going from strength to strength, and Addy is finally ready to leave Bayview behind her and tentatively take the steps towards a new relationship as she starts to put the horrors that her ex-boyfriend Jake put her through behind her.

Joining their group is Bronwyn’s tech-savvy younger sister Maeve, her boyfriend Luis, their friends Knox and Phoebe, and Cooper’s boyfriend Kris, all of whom have found themselves caught up in the twisted web of Bayview’s game-players in one way or another over the last year or so. Soon, however, it becomes clear that there’s a new horror starting up, one that begins with a billboard displaying a message: “Time for a new game, Bayview.” What first seems like a joke quickly turns serious when one of the group disappears, and when someone unexpected returns to town with an agenda of their own, it’s not long before the game turns deadly. There are still plenty of secrets plaguing the town of a Bayview but, as Simon Kelleher once said, all secrets come out in the end.

Most people aren’t malicious; they’re afraid. There’s nothing scarier than letting people see the parts of yourself that you wish weren’t there.”

If there’s one thing that Karen M. McManus knows how to do in her mystery thriller novels, it’s craft a convincing red herring and One Of Us Is Back is a wonderful example of that. This book is built on layers upon layers of misdirection, false leads and surprise reveals, and still it keeps you guessing right up to the final reveal, throwing in a few more twists for good measure along the way too. It’s a book that keeps you hooked even when the characters themselves aren’t doing much in the way of progressing the plot, and this time around the characters themselves really do feel more distanced from the plot than ever before. For once, this is a game in Bayview that doesn’t feel like it’s connected to any of the main group, and even though they go through the motions of piecing together the clues and attempting to solve the mystery, the novel lacks the same sense of urgency that the previous books in the series had in spades.

It helps then that these characters are ones that readers have grown to care about over the course of three books, although some more so than others, and a large part of our investment in their survival has already been established by the time we come to pick this one up. Of the entire Bayview Crew, three characters get their own POV to tell this story, with the novel honing in on Nate, Addy and Phoebe to piece together this final story. As a longtime reader (not to mention a fan of the TV adaptation that was cancelled far too soon), being back in Nate and Addy’s heads in particular is a joy.

Both of these characters were arguably impacted the most by Simon and Jake’s actions in the first book – with Nate being falsely accused, arrested and jailed while Addy was not only physically assaulted but left to navigate the emotional trauma of the years of gaslighting and controlling behaviour that Jake put her through – and both were also the ones who were left behind in Bayview and struggled to figure out what comes next. In this book both Nate and Addy are in happier and healthier places than we’ve ever seen them before, so when they’re caught up in yet another of Bayview’s twisted games it feels personal, with the reader as determined as the Bayview Crew themselves are to settle this once and for all.

Phoebe, meanwhile, feels a little more like an extra part, offering a direct link to the second book in the series and the loose ends that needed to be tied up, but lacking the personal connection to One Of Us Is Lying, which is perhaps more directly linked to this novel than One Of Us Is Next is. That’s not to say that Phoebe doesn’t have a story of her own to tell as she continues to struggle with her grief, her feelings of responsibility and her strained relationships in the wake of the fallout of book two, but it’s still a narrative that doesn’t quite resonate as strongly as the other two, who benefit from their shared character history and sheer longevity in the minds of the readers.

More than anything else though, One Of Us Is Back feels like a worthy conclusion to the Bayview trilogy. It’s very difficult to put the book down when the promise of more answers (and more twists) are just a page or two away. As a conclusion, this novel offers up enough further context, surprises and shocks to ensure that this series will offer up a truly satisfying binge read for anyone picking up the books for the first time in the future, while the novel itself delivers new insights, meaningful character and relationship growth, and a compelling new mystery that firmly ties up any remaining loose ends from the first two books too.

Most importantly, however, One Of Us Is Back gives readers a sense of well-deserved closure, offering a fitting send-off to these characters and a worthy, hopeful end to a gripping mystery series that’s been a firm fixture on YA readers’ bookshelves for years.


One Of Us Is Back was published by Penguin on 27 July 2023

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